It has been fifteen years since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published To Err is Human1 and Crossing the Quality Chasm2 alerting healthcare professionals and consumers that patients were unintentionally being harmed during the process of their care.  Although improvements have been made for many aspects of healthcare delivery, we have yet to achieve the IOM Quality Aims of a healthcare system that is safe, effective, efficient, timely, patient-centered and equitable.

The IOM defines patient safety as “freedom from accidental injury:  avoidance, prevention and amelioration of adverse outcomes or injuries stemming from the process of care”.1  Injury is any harm to a patient as a result of interactions with the healthcare system, be it a missed diagnosis, a delayed or inappropriate treatment.

Because laboratory test information plays a vital role in many healthcare decisions—diagnosis, choice of treatment, hospital admission and discharge—we, as Medical Laboratory Science professionals, have many opportunities to impact patients’ lives.  We can improve patient care by using the IOM Quality Aims as the foundation of our quality improvement processes, beginning at the point of selecting the laboratory test to order and ending with the effect of that information on patient care.

In this new monthly column we will present ideas, examples and methods to improve the quality of medical laboratory test information using the framework of the IOM’s Quality Aims.  Each month we will discuss one Quality Aim applied to Medical Laboratory Science, followed by each of the 5 Competencies3 necessary for healthcare practitioners to improve healthcare quality and patient safety.


  1. Committee on Quality of Health Care in America. Institute of Medicine.  Kohn L, Corrigan J, Donaldson M., eds. To err is human:  building a safer health system.  Washington DC:  National Academy Press; 2000.

  1. Committee on Quality of Health Care in America. Institute of Medicine.  Crossing the quality chasm:  a new health system for the 21st century.  Washington DC:  National Academy Press; 2001.

  1. Committee on the Health Professions Education Summit, National Academies Press. Greiner AC, Knebel E. eds. Health Professions Education:  A Bridge to Quality. Washington DC:  National Academies Press; 2003.

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